What is the stress in your life? The actual definition of stress is an emotional strain on the body. However, I think we tend to use the word like it’s a living thing instead of simply a reaction of our own thinking. The reality is that we can’t bottle stress up and give it away, we can’t take it from someone or leave it on the kitchen table. Stress is the result of what we feel after experiencing stressful thoughts. In those terms, if we limit or reduce the stressful thinking; we reduce the experience of stress. Simple, right? Ha! Even as I write that statement I realize how difficult it is to let that sit. Stress is real. I feel it, I experience it.
The problem is that I don’t often take the time to think through to the source of stress. It’s easier to say, “yeah, work is stressing me out’ than it is to actually process what is happening and what I could reasonably do about it. Oh wait, that’s part of the problem. Because when I feel stressed out, I start thinking about the fact that I may not be able to do anything about it. And of course, the other twisted part of this whole stress reaction is its kissing cousin, worry. Worry is also a source of thoughts that typically involve anxiety or concern about a real or imagined situation. I mean, has there ever been a time in your life when worrying about something helped the situation? Or made you feel better?
Hmm, I’m sensing some themes here. So if we think stressful thoughts and worry about things that may or may not happen we essentially cause our own emotional and mental strain on our bodies. Now, I’m not going all crazy and suggesting that we never experience stress or worry. But maybe if we realize that when the stressful thoughts occur or the worry happens, we simply acknowledge it and spin it into a less stressful thought that includes a solution, support, or strength. For instance instead of thinking “all this work is stressing me out” could be “how can I take better care of myself and organize my work to make it feel more manageable?” Granted, it may be tough to find a positive spin or proactive approach for each situation, but it’s a lot easier to think about actions I can take to change a situation or simply cope rather than get caught up in the relentless space of fear, worry, and stress. Yes, if I have to choose, I will always choose a space of hope versus stress or worry. Now I just have to practice making that conscious choice instead of falling into the habit of an automatic way of thinking. 🙂
Practice patience. That’s the inspiration card that hangs above my computer at work. I stuck it there because I need that kind of ‘in your face’ reminder every day. I often feel like I’m running around, trying to beat a clock somewhere only to find my patience dwindle and be replaced by an excessive supply of worry or stress. It happens in the grocery line, it happens when I am driving home, when I’m waiting for someone, and most of all it happens within myself. It’s that internal chatter, telling me to ‘hurry up’ and ‘do this faster’ or ‘I can’t believe how long this is taking.’
The reality is that I’m not even sure what it means to practice patience. How do you practice something you don’t even feel like you have most of the time? I meet people who make patience look effortless. I’m sure you know some of these folks too. They are the people who smile at the ‘slow-talker’ who is taking forever to tell a story. They are the ones who drive without a hint of frustration behind the guy who has changed lanes 3 times without a blinker and cut them off at least once. They respond to a hurried apology with “Don’t worry, take your time.” And they tell you they had to wait at the doctor’s office for over an hour without even flinching. Who are these people and what drugs do they take to make them so damn calm and patient?
My old perception would be that these people just don’t care and have no ambition. I would see their lack of concern as aloof and unengaged. My newer outlook realizes that these individuals are more present than I could even comprehend. They are totally in the moment and able to appreciate exactly what is happening versus worry about what may happen 30 minutes from now. They have figured out how to practice patience and make it work for them. I realize that when I’m around one of these more evolved persons of patience I tend to relax more and feel more calm. I don’t always understand it, but I can’t help but soak up their sense of peace and wonder if I will ever feel that easy about deadlines, long lines, traffic, and all the other nuances.
As I figure out this whole concept, I found a quick way to measure my patience. I just have to stop and ask myself if I am being completely present in this moment. If I’m worrying about how long this is taking or when I’m going to be done or how fast the line is moving….I’m not able to take in what is happening right now and what it is that I’m feeling and even more, what’s really triggering that feeling and creating this sense of urgency. Instead, I’m 3 steps ahead and robbing myself of a moment of reflection and insight. Granted, I don’t know if I’ve ever thought about being present in the grocery line as the lady in front of me piles up her 30 items in the clearly marked “express lane” but I’m starting to lean in to this idea that if I’m there, I should be present. I’m going to try this out for a while and see what happens. Lucky me, I have plenty of opportunities to practice!